What I Can Do

I have to come to realize that I do not need that master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in order to do good in this world. I already do good in this world, and I can do so much more. I can raise a child to become a kind, forgiving, generous and respectful individual who will, as I have, contribute so much to this world, to our community, and add to the lives of others. I have a calling to become a mother. That is what I am choosing to focus on. I am going to start dating again, and even if I do not find a partner to raise my child with, I am going to have a child. I am 33 now and in the first part of next year I will be 34. Give me two years of building resilience and additional healing, and you’ll have a strong mother who can give of herself even in her worst moments. It might not happen in two years, but that is the hope I am holding onto. This is the future I choose for myself.

My leave of absence from the MFT program starts next week. I can take up to 12 months off while still retaining my enrollment place in the program. I could start up again in January 2019 or sooner. After that I will lose my place in the program and if I want to return I would have to reapply. I’m okay with that.

I have two dreams in my life. One is to become a therapist. The other is to become a mother. I see now that I don’t have to make all of my dreams come true. My strongest calling is to have a family and to become a mother. I can fulfill that dream first, and maybe when the kids are grown, I can go back to school and fulfill that second dream. It doesn’t mean I can’t listen to and read books about therapy and psychology. I am still fascinated by the human mind, the human psyche, and always will be. That will never die. Passion fuels my will to live, my will to achieve higher heights, and my desire to bring meaning to my life.

Life now has meaning, and I am building upon that. I am so worthy of this life. I am fortunate to be alive and to be able to wake up every day even if I don’t feel like it. I am fortunate to have my brother and my mum and my therapist in my life. They are the three most meaningful relationships I have. Nothing else matters, truth be told. I will always have those connections, no matter what, and there is not even the remotest possibility of experiencing abandonment from either of them. A part of them will always be with me, even when their physical bodies are gone. They will live within my heart.

I spend a lot of time daydreaming about being pregnant, and of having a small child in the home where I live now. I have truly made this into a home. It doesn’t matter if I cannot afford much, or afford to have the whole place to myself. It’s okay to have roommates. It’s okay to do what you need to do in order to live and get by. As long as those things you do are lawful things. I truly have a home. I have a place to call home. I have built my life from the inside out, and this home is the physical manifestation of all of the hard work I have put into my mind and my body. I have invested a lot in myself and it shows. The truth, the fact that “I am okay,” is resoundingly clear. I am safe now and no one can take that safety away from me. No one.

I imagine my sweet little dog being sweet with my baby and cuddling with my baby on the bed. My dog is an older dog of about 6 years old, not too old, and I adopted him on April 30th of this year. He sleeps with me and we do a lot of things together. We are often next to each other in the home. I have a small home, but it is big enough for the two of us and my dear roommate. I have gotten very lucky with roommates these last couple years, but I can also attribute that to my wise choices and good judge of character.

I got a raise this year. I went from not being able to cover my monthly expenses to making being able to make ends meet. The cost of living where I live is quite high, higher than most places. I also have certain important expenses which add up, such as paying for psychotherapy out of pocket. Even though the therapy is on a sliding scale, it still adds up. It is not uncommon for me to pay $800 per month in therapy fees, although lately I have been able to stretch that over two months because I have been doing better.

A friend recently suggested I start a blog for a magazine. I think that isn’t such a bad idea! I would love to put my real name out there and express myself to unknown readers. I already do that here, but my blog is for the most part quite anonymous. I also have my poetry. I have several hundred poems, and I have to say, they are quite brilliant. My mum recently told me about Rupi Kaur and I listened to her first book of poetry called “Milk and Honey” on Scribd. It’s really good. Her book has been a best-seller. I tell you, my poetry is that good or better. I have a story to tell and I tell it in sonnets and run-on sentences broken into paragraphs of words which sing songs of my life story. I wish that publishing poetry wasn’t so difficult. I think that publishers think that poetry won’t sell, won’t make any money, and therefore they won’t take on authors and offer contracts. I want to record my poetry and put it into an audio book. I want to do so many things.

I would have never known that graduate school isn’t for me had I not gotten here. Don’t get me wrong: I think I would be an incredibly effective therapist. I would be good at the craft. I could heal people through talk therapy and I could do for others what my therapist has done for me. But I don’t need a degree in order to help others. I can do that as I live my every day. I can smile at my co-workers and add value to my office, work hard and be good at what I do. I can offer my rescued dog a good life, and live peacefully with my roommate and find a man with whom I want to raise a child and build a family. That’s what I can do.

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In Learning About Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

First week of grad school, done! I did it. I made it. I am here. One of my classes is Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling. Chapter 3 is about psychodynamic psychotherapy. At the end of our first class, after we had gone over the first two chapters, the professor asked who would like to do the role play for psychodynamic psychotherapy (yes, it is a mouth full to say). My hand shot up. I was the very first person to volunteer. You see, I have an inkling that part of the type of therapy I have been in for the last nine years is just that, based on that theory.

I met with my therapist today to get help on my assignment and do some role play practice. It was very helpful. You see, I read the entire chapter, which took me about 4.25 hours over two days, and if I had to recite or recall anything from the chapter, well, I don’t think I would do so well.

Here is the scenario that we came up with. I am the therapist and my client is AM (Adult Male). AM is married to a woman who works in the theater industry and is always gone at night doing plays. AM works in the banking industry at a 9 – 5 job and when he comes home at night the house is always empty and he feels lonely. In addition to that his wife recently made them get a dog and she is never home to take care of the dog so he is always walking the dog. AM is not sure if he wants to stay in this marriage. I tell him I can imagine that this must be very difficult for him.

I ask him if there was ever another time where he has felt like this before. He reflects and tells me that when he was a kid his mom and dad worked very hard at their careers and he knew they loved him but that he was self-sufficient and a lot of the time he took care of himself. He says again that his parents loved him very much but looks down and to the side while saying it. As a therapist I notice this nonverbal gesture and realize that what was said may not be accurate as per AM’s perception, but this is his defense mechanism by defending his parents.

I tell him, “I notice you looked down when you said that and shifted your position. Tell me about what is happening on the inside for you.” He says, “I don’t know, I guess this topic makes me uncomfortable.” I say, “what is it like sitting with this discomfort?” “It doesn’t feel good,” he replies. “No, I bet it doesn’t.”

Shift of topic. I ask him what the experience was like when he was left alone and he says it was fine, really. I point out that just as AM’s parents were often gone, his wife is often gone and what does he think about that? I don’t know, he replies. “I think there might be a connection there, that maybe it is no coincidence that you chose to marry a person who is very involved with and focused on her career, just like with your parents.” It’s just something to notice, maybe a pattern.

This scenario happens during the working phase of treatment, not the initial phase. The scene with my scene partner only needs to be 10 – 20 minutes long. We can record it on video ahead of time, which is what I will be doing, or we could present the scene live in class. Either way the professor is going to help us to interpret the style of therapy, point out elements of the theory which were applied noticing interventions used.

I used empathy in the beginning when I said this must be hard for him. I guess what the intervention would be at the end is providing some insight as to the connection between the past and the present. I just added in the paragraph of how the therapist focuses on the here and now moment and his reaction to telling me about his past, insisting that his parents loved him even though he may have felt abandoned or neglected by them.

For each case, I am to come up with a case conceptualization and then a treatment plan. The treatment plan goes over the goals for the initial, working, and closing phases of treatment. For each goal listed there needs to be a set of interventions which I am going to use. Just the term itself, “intervention” is new to me and although by definition I know what it means, to intervene in a way which provides a positive outcome, I barely know what the interventions are. I know that using empathy might be a type of intervention but I don’t know what else is. I will have to refer back to the textbook.

Remediation

I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.

I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.

I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.

I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.

My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).

I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.

I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”

Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.

Appreciation and Back To Who I Used To Be (Minus the PTSD)

It’s the dawn of a new day… no, no, no. It isn’t actually. It’s an hour before sunset and it is my privilege to be sitting outside under a blue sky on campus. I just got out of work and I have a half hour before class, so I figure I can make use of this time and have the luxury of writing a blog entry. I was elegantly dressed at work and I brought my bright pink duffel bag with gym clothes and flip flops to change into. It always feels great to not be in work clothes since I spend over 40 hours a week in them anyway. I wonder if in grad school I’ll feel compelled to dress formally as at work or casual as I am now. I suppose it will depend on what others do in my cohort. But this is undergrad and I totally fit in in gym clothes. I still don’t get the whole torn jeans thing. You buy jeans and other clothing items that look totally mutilated. I don’t get it. Not for me. Not of my generation or stylistic comprehension. But I will reserve judgement.

It’s just cool enough, 71 degrees and in the shade, to be wearing a nice, baggy sweater. I love covering myself up but letting my feet roam free in the air. I don’t like tight clothing unless it is black because then you can’t really see the shape as well. Even if I were super skinny… no, no, no. Yet again, no. I don’t want to be thin. I want to be healthy. I want to be as I am now.

I am so lucky to have been able to afford a new and lightweight computer. I look at myself out on this slab of a concrete bench with a laptop in my lap, typing away, and I think, wow, I am so modern. I have modern technology and my computer is portable. I can use it anywhere. I can connect to WiFi anywhere on campus. It just wasn’t like that when I went to college. I don’t even use a physical notepad any longer because I take all of my notes on a Word document. What ever happened to the buy-it-once computer technology. It’s because Microsoft can make more money off of an annual subscription fee. Plus the software gets updated automatically.

This morning was amazing. This weekend was amazing. It’s all because I have not been feeling depressed. I woke up before my alarm clock. Can you believe it? Me, of all people. Me, the person who used to have three alarms set on my phone with three snooze options per alarm. That’s an alarm ringing every 5 to 10 minutes for 45 minutes long. My first alarm would ring at 7:00 and my last snooze would be at 7:50 in order to make the short drive to start work by 8:30.

I woke up before my alarm because of a nightmare. But in that bad dream I was saying “no” to my abuser. I tried closing my eyes to think of something pleasant, such as imagining sitting in my therapist’s calming waiting room, but the visualization didn’t work. So I got up. I actually got up. I put my feet on the ground and slowly stood up. That’s all it took to get up. I am so amazed. Why does it feel insurmountably difficult to drag myself out of bed every single day, but today, for whatever reason, it was easy? I want more of these days!

I had coffee. I only make myself coffee on weekends when I sleep in and I have nowhere to be in the mornings. I purposefully don’t schedule my weekend mornings because I know just how difficult it is for me to get out of bed. But today, on a weekday, on a Monday, I made myself espresso in my stovetop moka. I even sat outside to drink it. I felt the cool air rushing over my skin while I was still in pajamas.

My patio is filled with a bag of potting soil, a new plant, and new pots. I have big plans for my patio. Two years ago, in 2013 and 2014 when I had my one bedroom apartment which I could afford only at the time, I had a potted garden on my balcony. I had the most beautiful ceramic pots of blue and other colours. I grew sunflowers and morning glories and basil and zucchini and mint and succulents and I still had my sentimental tree that I had grown since it was a baby tree for about eight years. I have since given that tree to my brother and his girlfriend and I’m fine with them having it. I can grow a new tree. Wouldn’t it be cool to grow an avocado tree? It takes years to finally bear fruit. I have only ever gotten a seed to grow two feet tall, but that in itself was an accomplishment. I used to take pictures of my flowers and send them to friends. All of this, I am going to do again. I am going to return to the person I was, the person who had hobbies and who did creative things, and filled her life with joy. It has taken a long time to come back to this place. But I did it. I am doing it.

Visit With a Psychic Medium

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I always do a lot of thinking. Yet processing the events of yesterday have required a concerted effort on my part. The events occurred over a period of just over an hour. To be exact, we started at just around 2:00 and when I walked out it was 3:13. The number 13 has been significant in my life for a long time. I think in general, it is an unusual and unique number. It is a prime number and an odd number.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Alejandra kept repeating this phrase during the beginning of our session. I had an appointment scheduled to see my psychotherapist at 2:00 on Saturday. When my friend, who is also my assistant at work, told me about her experience about her “reading” I was really intrigued. I’m really not into this sort of thing. It has interested me but not to the extent to where I have really done anything other than a cursory Internet search on the topic. I have never looked into it before. My upstairs neighbour got some tarot cards a while ago and said he wanted to start learning how to read the cards. He had downloaded an app on his phone to help him. There are so many cards in a pack, and all of them and their meanings have to be committed to memory.

“God said to me, I gave you a gift and you need to use it.” Alejandra was talking about the time when she was homeless and living out of her car on H Street in her neighbourhood, which isn’t in the best area of town. “How did you get food?” I asked. “I went to 7-Eleven on the corner of the street,” she replied.

Thirteen years ago her father had died on a Monday. That same week, her mother died the following Saturday. She was relating to me in that she was in a deep depression. She had gone to a psychiatrist and he prescribed pills to her. Antidepressants, presumably. She said to him, “That’s it?” “Yes, that’s it,” he replied. She walked out with the prescription. No talk therapy. That’s all that was offered to her. She took a pill on the first day and by the time the second day came around, she took one look at the bottle and poured the contents down the toilet and flushed. “I am not going to take pills when have the power to heal myself,” she said to me. “What if there is a chemical imbalance, like I have?” I asked. I had already told her that I take three different kinds of medication daily for depression and that I really, really need them to stay balanced and okay. She told me that I can do it. That slowly, very slowly, I can come off of the medications. It’s called titration but I didn’t tell her that. I knew what she meant. She was very kind to me especially while relaying this information to me.

While she was homeless she was giving readings with her tarot cards to her friends. She didn’t charge them. If they asked her if she wanted payment she sort of just shrugged her shoulders. They would give her five dollars, here and there. “Nobody helped me out when I was homeless,” she told me. No one gave her money. She was down on her knees and praying and that’s when God told her she needed to use her gift. He told her that she needed to always be honest, because the day that she isn’t honest in using her gift, he will take that gift away from her.

She doesn’t do this for the money. I know she is telling the truth. She only charges $50 for a reading, whereas others around town charge $100 or more. My roommate cleansed our home a few weeks ago by burning sage and we both said prayers throughout our home. We cleansed the entrances and our rooms of nightmares and bad dreams, and any bad energies that might have been there. She suggested I do a cleansing with a healer, i.e. a psychic medium. From a quick Google search she sent me a few links and each cleansing was advertised at $150. No way am I going to spend that kind of money when I can spend that on seeing my psychotherapist instead.

So when my assistant started talking to me about her reading, even before knowing the cost, I was very intrigued. Alejandra had told her to not wear black on Fridays because it is bad luck. She didn’t tell me that. She also told my friend that the man she is with is not for her, and that she sees her doing something in the medical field. Funny you mention that, said my friend to this lady, I just signed up for nursing school. There is no way that Alejandra could have known that previously. She told my friend to stay single for a while and to focus on herself. It sounded like such a positive experience that I wanted to have the same thing done to me. I wanted to get my reading done.

When I first arrived at Alejandra’s home, I was very nervous. She lives in a very modest one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a gated community in a decent but not the best of neighbourhoods. The main room smelled delicious and the air was filled with a type of incense. There was a curio cabinet full of interesting items that were all similar. There were several shelves of what looked like glass bells, with all sorts of designs on them. I asked to use the restroom. She directed me to her bathroom, to which I walked through the bedroom to get to. Her bedroom is modest and small. There was a hair pin under the stopper in the sink and I was tempted to take it out because it looked out of place, until I realized that the pin was keeping the stopper up, so that water could run through it underneath. It had a purpose. There was a digital scale under a cabinet which I tried to briefly use but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work and I didn’t want too much time to pass, else she might wonder what I was doing in her bathroom. She has a lot of perfumes on display.

There is a small, brown leather couch with three seats in it in the living room. I believe there was a carpet but now I’m not so sure. There was a fold-out card table just barely big enough to put cards on, and a foldout chair on the other side of the card table opposite the couch. I placed my purse and an extra bag I had brought on the floor and sat on the couch immediately. She then asked me to sit in the small chair. My back was to the front door and to my right up against the wall was her altar, which consisted of about five large porcelain glass figurines of different angels. There was a smaller box, very small, with what looked like a dollar bill stuffed into it. I surmise, as an offering to the angels. There were a couple other smaller items on the altar, which was a flat surface on top of a small wooden cabinet, which looked like it also served as a space heater because there was a knob or dial to turn on heat and an electronic furnace on the bottom of it.

She was about to sit down to start our session when she said, “now I have to use the restroom.” Several minutes later she came out of her bedroom very animated and said, “my phone fell in the toilet, I hope it still works.” She got out some Lysol sanitizing wipes and started wiping down her phone. She kept repeating, “I hope it works” and then, “It’s not working, it’s not working.” She used a kitchen towel to wipe down the sanitizing moisture and continued to swipe her phone. The screen was on, and nothing was working. Suddenly she asked me, “you must be very nervous?” I said, “yes.” That’s when she said, “that’s why. Everything happens for a reason.” I was tempted to ask her to clarify what she meant, in that I understood it was because I was nervous that her phone fell into the toilet. I held back and didn’t ask her because I had already understood that. I was also tempted to apologize and say, “I’m sorry” but I held back because I knew it wasn’t my “fault.” It was just something that had happened. She came back to the couch while continuing to make comments about her phone and trying to get it to work.

“Do you mind if I move this?” she asked, referring to my purse. Before I could answer verbally, having already nodded my head in consent, she moved my purse to the couch. “It is bad luck to put your purse on the floor.” Taking that information in, I noted how I literally always have my purse on the floor. When I sleep at night my purse is on my bedroom floor. At work, my purse is on the floor. Now I am going to start placing my purse on my hope chest in my bedroom and locking my purse in a drawer during the daytime at work. I never knew this.

First, she said she needed to cleanse the energy of the previous person off of the cards. She took the incense burner which was to her side and placed it on the card table. Fanning about five to seven cards at a time she waved them over the smoke of the incense until she got through the whole pack. Then she asked me to shuffle the stack in any way, three times. After that I was to separate the stack of cards in three ways, the first pile laying face down horizontally, then the next vertically, then the next horizontally, simply indicating the break in the pile which I had chosen. I didn’t pay much attention to how she dealt out the cards and ordered them; it happened too quickly for me to catch on. While dealing out the cards and looking at them, she read them out loud to me. “You have been hurt very badly in the past,” she said. I didn’t have to tell her that it had been in a relationship; she already knew that. She said that his energy is still with me and that I need to forgive him and to forgive myself. She said the first time he hurt me, it was his fault. The second time… I stopped her. I knew what she was going to say and I told her that. “You’re going to tell me that it was my responsibility.” “Yes, you could have said no,” she said. “I did say no. I said no so many times. He wore me down.” I, of course, didn’t want to take responsibility. But in a kind way, she said that I need to forgive myself, and pray for God to enter his life. “Yes, he said that he was Jesus sometimes,” I told her. “He does not have God in his life.” She said I need to imagine him visually before me and to pray for him and to forgive him.

Later in the session she told me he is not going to live long. That had been after I asked her if my mom will live a long life, which she affirmed with a “yes.” I was allowed to ask her absolutely anything, but by the end of the session she had told me so much about myself and my future, I could barely think of anything else to ask. She told me that I need to forgive the person in my past relationship before he passes away. I told her that he likes to do dangerous things like flying airplanes. He is a pilot. He also likes to drive at extremely fast speeds on any roads, even if they say 15 miles per hour. She repeated that he is not going to live long and that I need to forgive him. I told her that he had gotten remarried last year and that he is probably doing the same thing to the new woman he is with. “That is not your problem now,” she told me.

She told me that I need to get closer to my family. Without me having to tell her, she knew that I am in this city alone and that my family is not around me, for whatever reason. I did not fill in the blank but said, “my friends are my family here.” She told me that me and my brother are my mother’s entire life, that my mom lives for us. She said that my mom loves me and that I mean much more to her than my brother means to her. She told me that I need to go visit her as soon as possible. “What if my mom comes to me? I could buy her a ticket and she can come visit.” “That is fine,” said Alejandra, “as long as you see her soon.” I told her that my mom is moving and that she will be even further away from me. “Just visit her as soon as possible.” “Okay,” I said.

“I see you sitting at your desk all day long. What do you do for work?” she asked. She was right. I am glued to my desk. I explained to her that I work for financial advisors in the field of finance and that I schedule appointments for them, and that I am on the phone all day long with my headset on. She nodded in understanding. Before that she had told me that I am looking to get a better job. She was also right. I told her I am looking to change my career. Before I had even told her that I am going to school, she said that I am fine financially right now, but that I will struggle a bit in the future. She was right, because when I start school, I am planning to take out loans. When she had learned that I am in school, she said, “you are studying something like psychology.” There is no way, no prior indication, which would have let her know that information. “Yes,” I said, “and I am applying to grad school to become a marriage and family therapist.”

She was looking at five cards spread out with one in the middle and four at each corner. She told me that my dreams will come true and that I will be successful in my career. “You want to have children,” she told me. “Yes,” I replied enthusiastically.” She told me that I will have two children. I told her how I am thinking of freezing my eggs this year because after 35 I will be considered advanced maternal age, and that the risk of birth defects including down syndrome increases significantly. I told her that freezing my eggs is expensive. “You can afford it?” she asked me. “Yes, right now I can. Should I do it?” She didn’t answer me but took out her other phone, her personal phone which had not fallen into the toilet, and showed me a photograph of a woman who, at two years older than Alejandra, is 49, and was surrounded in the photograph by three people. Two of those children were older girls, one looked like she is a teenager, the other in her middle to late childhood. There was a third child. This child was a boy and looked about five years old. “He is healthy,” she told me. Meaning that her friend had had him in her early to mid-40s and he turned out fine. “There is nothing wrong with him. He is perfect,” she said. “Your children will be fine.” “So I don’t need to freeze my eggs?” I asked. “It’s up to you,” she replied.

Transition Time

I am the maker of my destiny. Those are powerful words. It means that I am in charge of my life now. It is assuming responsibility for the actions that I take within my life. There’s no more acting from the perspective of fear or hurt. Sound decisions based upon a balanced soul and rational mind control my life. Some things don’t always go as planned and there are setbacks. But those are part of the normal ebb and flow of ups and downs which comprise the human consciousness.

I have not been accepted into the two graduate programs I applied to. I had high hopes for both and both times I was disappointed to the point of being temporarily devastated. But I have recovered. Had I written about those incidents at the time those musings would have been infused with strong emotions. I am now in the process of applying to more graduate programs whose deadlines have been extended and others who simply have later deadlines for a Fall start.

I discovered the LPCC Masters of Science program in Early Childhood Mental Health. I hadn’t looked into it before, but the university which did not accept me for the MFT program said they could transfer my application to that department. I accepted. Ironically, my therapist teaches in that program as part of the faculty. If I get accepted into the program I will not be able to see him for therapy because dual relationships are not allowed. And if I go to see him for office hours as my professor our conversation must be limited to class material. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do not like the idea of not seeing him for therapy. My idea is that I will always see him, for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, the idea of him becoming my professional mentor is quite appealing. When I am in need of supervision during my practicum and internship, he might be available to guide me. Maybe it is time to graduate from his service as my psychotherapist. I would want to continue psychotherapy, and he does know colleagues to whom he would recommend me. However, the new therapist would know nothing about my past. I might not be able to be fully myself and fully open with her (yes, I am assuming it will be a female whom I would choose). I am often childlike in my expressions of joy, anger, and disappointment, and I might force myself to act in a more reserved and mature fashion. It doesn’t mean that I have to be less emotionally expressive.

Either way, I think my therapist is proud of me and will continue to be proud of me no matter what I choose to do. I can imagine my therapist teaching me about reflective practice, and guiding me to follow the beliefs and method and theory of psychotherapy toward which he leans. If I had to put my finger on a theoretical orientation which I might ascribe to him, it would have to be eclectic and nonspecific. Attachment work is a large part of our therapy together. He incorporates therapeutic techniques and interventions which he has refined and developed over the last 20 plus years. Whatever he does, it has worked. He always seems to know the right way to respond to me, and say the right thing. I always feel better after seeing him. I want to give this gift of calming peace and safety to other people.

In Preparation for the Life Ahead

It has been a while since I last posted because I have been focused on other things, such as studying for school and working on my new creative art project which involves my three passions: photography, poetry, and painting. Of course, those are endeavours that are outside of the 40 hours a week that I work. My life is so much richer and fuller now. It wasn’t always like this, and not so long ago, as recent as last October, one of my biggest complaints was still that I was unable to get out of bed on the weekends. I would often spend 18 hours or more in bed, yet I managed to get up for work on the weekdays. I didn’t look forward to weekends. My therapist often reminded me that I was making a choice: that I was choosing to stay in bed for almost 24 hours at a time. I was feeling consistently very depressed and it did not feel like a choice.

It’s true: I did spend the last 14 hours in bed and only got up at noon. But right now I am not bothered by it because it did feel like a choice. I went to bed very early at 9:30 and woke up at 7:30 feeling refreshed. But I didn’t want to get up, not really, so I chose to go back to sleep. It was a choice, and had nothing to do with depression.

I am still seeing my therapist two times a week, down from the recent three times a week before he started teaching at the university when the Spring semester began. He teaches in the Education department and works with students who will be spending their careers working with young children. He knows a lot about human development, and how the growing mind works, and what is appropriate for different developmental stages.

I am going to be starting a ten-week group therapy course this week for survivors of sexual assault. It will be at a community center which provides housing for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations. I needed to find a group that was not for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, because that is not applicable to me, and most groups that I looked up on the internet were for that subject matter. I wonder if there will be members of the group who experienced ongoing sexual abuse for a number of years, like I did, not just one time.

My therapist told me that because it is a new group, a new cohort of women who have not met before, there are others who are probably also afraid of starting this group. I am feeling scared and I admitted to my therapist yesterday that I don’t feel like I am ready for this. He reminded me, basically, that I am in control and that if I need to step out of the group because it becomes too overwhelming, I can. No one is forcing me to go to this group and if I decide it’s too much I can even drop the group and stop attending.

I have no idea what this group is going to bring up in terms of feelings for me. My hope is that it will be healing, listening to others who have been through what I have been through, reminding me that I am not alone. I know there may be a lot of tears. I realize that painful memories might emerge. I am actually taking time off of work so that I can attend this group, because it starts in the late afternoon before I get off of work.

Currently I am not dating anyone. I have been on multiple dates with four different women, and after some time, I have realized that the special connection which is required for love to form, is not there. Or perhaps it is that I am not attracted enough physically and emotionally to the person, and that there might not be enough intellectual stimulation and room for growth. This one woman who I saw four times over a period of three months, I really liked her. I wanted to hold hands with her and to kiss her. That never happened and the frequency of our meetings was not enough for me. I wanted to see her more often but her schedule did not permit that.

For now I am focusing on my education, my new creative art project which will take place over the next year, my friendships, and therapy. Psychotherapy is the most important component to my life. It provides emotional stability and feeling connected to someone is so vital for me to continue to heal. I love my therapist deeply. There has never been any physical contact between us. I may have shook his hand the first time we met over eight years ago. I often feel like I want to hug him but I know about boundaries in the therapeutic relationship and instead of hugging him I simply tell him when I feel like doing it. Telling him is enough and I know he can appreciate the gesture and my expression of the feelings I have for him.

For a long time I thought of him as a father figure. I know that is counter transference. But I needed it at the time. I needed a protector, someone to take care of me. Since I started paying him a year ago, no longer pro bono as a client, it has helped to establish the boundary and I know that he is not a friend, but my therapist. He is not my father; he is my therapist. The therapeutic bond between a therapist and their patient is, once again, vital to the healing process.

I am preparing for the life that is ahead of me. I feel happiness more often than not, and peacefulness in my heart and in my mind. Occasionally, lately, I feel lonely, but that feeling only stays for a short amount of time, and then it goes. There is nothing that is really missing in my life right now. I have a full life and it will only start to become fuller as time goes on.

I had an episode a few weeks ago whence I got triggered and felt extremely suicidal. It was an emergency. I called the suicide hotline and then took the rest of the day off of work and was able to see my therapist within a period of two hours. I’m sure there was a lot to write about to help me process the event, but I chose to deal with it in other ways. I suffered for a short amount of time, two days, but it was intense. I had a plan to commit suicide and I had the intent to carry through with that plan. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. The pain that had emerged suddenly was too much to bear and I needed to end my life. Seeing my therapist for an hour that day made me agree to not kill myself, and slowly over the next days that suicidal feeling dissipated until it was gone. It had been about six months since I had last felt suicidal, and those six months were quite the record. Although I had been very depressed, I had not been suicidal. Before that, suicidal thoughts and feelings came up about once a month for me. It was very difficult getting through those times.

I am ready for my future to begin. This is my new life and no one can take it away from me. I am in control of my life. I am an independent woman and I know that I am strong. I provide for myself financially and I am going to put myself through graduate school by taking out loans and then paying them back. I pay my own rent, I buy whatever groceries I choose to buy, I choose what to wear and I choose to be abstinent. I am choosing to attend group therapy starting this week and I choose to continue my healing process. I am in control and I get to be genuinely me now. And I am allowed to love myself, finally. I have waited a long time for this.

That which sustains me

To my therapist,
You are my healer. Actually you are my helper and I am my healer. Actually love and time and patience and resilience and strength and understanding are my healers. You have done and continue to do so much for me. I’ve also been wanting to thank you for making therapy affordable for me. It really helps. It’s so important that I am paying you now and soon it will have been a year that I started paying you. When you first decided to take me on as pro bono I had no idea. I just kept paying you my copay and assuming you were charging my insurance and it was only much later after my separation that I discovered you were doing this. You mean so much to me that words will never adequately describe the feeling I have for you. It’s attachment. You have taught me about attachments. They are so powerful. So powerful. I remember telling you at one point that I wanted to get rid of all the money my ex-husband was giving me for alimony. I wanted to spend it. I thought it was dirty. Little did I realize then that it would end and I would have to be healed enough to finally get a job to sustain myself. I think that having this job and the challenges I have been through in it have also helped me to grow and heal. And financial independence does a lot. I would be doing very poorly financially had I not received the unexpected extra alimony as income earlier this year.
I can’t believe it’s almost 2017 and that’s the year that I start training for my professional career. Actually I have been training for it all my life. I am ready for this and I am ready to truly and effectively pay forward all of the help and love and effort and dedication you have shown me. I definitely have faith in humanity and I have faith in myself. Nothing will ever stop me from achieving my goals of becoming a professional helper like you. And I happen to know for absolute certain that you will never leave me and that you will always be by my side. You saw me yesterday in the middle of the day even though you hadn’t planned on it originally. We don’t live our lives for each other, I know that we have our own lives. But the time that I spend with you, and all of the time in between, is, well, meaningful beyond belief and healing. Now that I have healed so much, even though there will be more work toward that ahead, now the real learning gets to start, and that’s now the fun part! When I was going through trauma I was numb, then I was in denial, then I was in pain beyond comprehension. And all that while I wanted to kill myself. But now that the fog of depression has lifted and the crippling desire to be dead is gone, now I have space to learn. I can absorb information more readily and what I learn now I am able to recall. You have patiently repeated lessons and phrases and concepts to me endlessly until it was no longer necessary, like the concept that the pain will one day end, and my favourite phrase “not yet”, and my even more favourite phrase that “feelings come and go but I remain”. I’m still actively learning about that last one.
You know, the promise and agreement for me to one day write you a handwritten letter of how I am doing has had some of the biggest impact on me, even though at times I have fought it. When I wanted to die you reminded me of that promise. And you always are able to find angles that I can relate to and that eventually speak to me. Like if I don’t care in the moment about not having had my own children yet, that I haven’t yet experienced being an auntie to my brother’s future child or children, that that got to me earlier this year. If you call my ideas brilliant sometimes, like my idea of going to the jacuzzi instead of writing about my past trauma, then, well, you are brilliant too. I know that you are human which means you aren’t perfect and that one day your physical body will no longer be with me, but you are everything to me. You are my world, or at least for a long time you were the only attachment I had to the world and to staying alive. At times I didn’t even want to stay alive for my mum but I knew that I had to stay alive so that I could see you again, and I lived off of each of our meetings, from one, which sustained me, to the next. There was a time when I was doing so poorly that you were seeing me every day. I don’t actually remember that time but I wrote about it and recently read about what I wrote. There are some things that I have forgotten or that are buried so deeply in my psyche that they are almost unreachable, and that that is a very very good thing.
You sustain me, and you always will. But I know that I will have other things that will sustain me, like my dedication to my future patients, and a child of my own to whose wellbeing I will dedicate every ounce of my being.
With that all said, I want you to know that I love you and I am looking forward to my future and to our future, you and me, and how our relationship will continue to evolve. This isn’t “the letter” that we know I will one day write to you, but I feel that it comes very close to it and that it’s good practice. And I also believe that it will not be just one letter that I write to you, but a series of letters.
I’m very glad that I didn’t die each time that I attempted suicide. And I know that you are very glad that I am alive as well.
Thank you for you, for being you, for dedicating yourself to me, for everything that you have given to me, your time, your emotional being, your efforts, your healing words and constant and consistent presence, for showing me what an authentic connection can be, for letting me become incredibly attached to you, which sustained me, for showing me your love and care through your words, your facial expression, your consistency, your actions, your body language and even the way you sit, for our silence and the necessary space you always give to me.
Grazie and happy new year.
~ Your dedicated patient and fellow human being.

Becoming okay again

The leaves are falling and the days are becoming shorter. The first rain has come and gone. Nine months ago I could have not foreseen this season coming. I was living in the “now” and unable to see much into the future. I was still surviving and doing my best to cope. Different coping skills are warranted at different times. My current coping skill to deal with the mental fatigue is writing with my head cocked to the right. Right now, in this moment, I am okay.

As the months have passed, I have been able to recognize that I do have a future. I can foresee all the way into next Spring, when I will find out or not if I got into the University I had hoped for. Applications have yet to be started. I know that I have a future because I no longer want to die. I look forward to my appointments with my therapist and as soon as one session is over, I cannot wait until the next, though I do need recovery time in between. I would not be able to do that kind of introspective and difficult self-discovery work every day. I admire him that he does do that work with other people every day.

Now and then I feel sad. Sometimes I feel anger toward my ex-abuser. Less often do I find myself angry with me. Depression, it is said, is anger turned inwards. I have become more accepting of myself, my body, my self worth as a person, someone who deserves to have a positive future. I suffer less emotional depression even though I still exhibit a lot of behavioural signs of depression, such as staying in bed for 22 hours in a 24 hour period, or not showering as often as I should, not exercising, not going for walks. For the most part, however, I am able to take care of myself. I eat. I shop for groceries. I go to the ATM. I am a good driver. I go to work.

This was a difficult week. I experienced extreme anger – rage – and I expressed that in a letter to my ex-abusers’ future wife. Then I tossed and turned for several nights and even had to take a day off of work. Now that I have resolved to not actually send that letter, I feel more at ease. But what is leftover from the anger turned outwards is extreme sadness. I am sad for all of the hurt that I endured, all of the emotional pain that I have battled with. I am grieving the loss of my self. I lost myself and now I am finding myself, really, for the first time in my life. When I got together with my ex I was still a teenager and my full self had not yet formed or had a chance to develop. Now I am allowed to be whole and to be me.

Why didn’t I ask for more intensive therapy sooner? Why didn’t I do it? I thought it would be a burden to my therapist. I didn’t want to take up even more of his precious time. Yet, he did not hesitate one beat when I asked to see him more than once a week. “What are you doing this Saturday,” he asked me. “Nothing,” I replied between sobs. “How’s 2:00?” He had his schedule memorized. He didn’t even need to look at his calendar. He is going to dedicate himself fully to me, yet again, from 2:00 – 3:00 this Saturday. “That means you have to get out of bed, can you handle that?” “Yes,” I replied sheepishly. Yes, I will get out of bed for you, if it’s the last thing I do. I will not miss a chance to see you because I love you and I need you.

I feel relieved because it’s Thursday night, just 26 hours since I last saw my therapist, and I only have to wait two and a half more days to see him again. Much less anguish, less stress, less anxiety, because I know he will talk to me and help me and say things that help make my life okay again. Because my life was not okay this week and I was not okay. But I am becoming okay again.

Own It.

I have to own my illness. I have to own my story. This is my story, not yours, damn it! You can’t tell me that I wasn’t a victim, that I knowingly took part in those acts, that I have responsibility to burden and bear. I was coerced, manipulated, infantilized, abused, exposed, indignified, raped, pimped, emotionally wounded, psychologically distressed, innocent…

I can’t go on. I started this rampage a day or two ago but I can’t go on. I am unable to concentrate at work. I toss and turn at night and wake up every hour. Ever since I found out that my ex-abuser is getting married, I’ve been wanting the world to know my story. The world! I want everyone that he knows to know my version of the story. Why? Why do I need their acknowledgement and validation? Why care about other people’s opinions? Why care about his happiness versus mine? I don’t! I care about the woman he is going to hurt over the next years, and the child that he might bring to this world who will have to live with him as a psychologically abusive, manipulative, childish, and potentially sexually abusive, objectifying father. God forgive us all if he has a girl. That’s abuse that could have been preventable. Or could it?

I can’t concentrate. I am infuriated. Beside myself. With anger, with rage. It’s not that he’s moving on in his life; we have both moved on. It’s that he’s sinking his fangs into another innocent soul. Someone probably unexpecting and susceptible just like I was.

I shared my last post, the “Warning Letter,” with a lot of people. I got mixed reviews. Some people told me simply that it was a great blog, that I’m such a good writer, that they’re proud of me. Some told me they would send it. Others have told me that it’s none of my business, their relationship and what goes on in between them, and that I should stay out of it, and focus on my own mental health. He’s totally the kind of person who would sue. If I sent her a warning letter, he would either serve me with a restraining order, sue me for defamation or harassment, and it would all be written off as me being the “jealous ex-wife” who’s still in love with him. Only I’m not.

I shouldn’t have looked him up in the first place. I shouldn’t have Googled his name. Why did I do it? To be honest, I’m not sure, but he has been in my dreams lately, in a different way. In my dreams, I am fighting back. I woke myself up one morning by punching the air and shouting out loud “asshole”. I couldn’t remember the rest of the dream, but that was the most important part, right there.

I shared the letter with a Catholic friend and she reminded me patiently to never, ever, ever send her anything about my story and the experiences I went through again because it is “tainting her purity” and she needs to protect herself. Seriously?! I mean, right, I guess I can understand. Some people just can’t handle the truth. But the memories of the abuse and the lasting effects and my past suicide attempts, those are something I have to live with every single day of my life. It is MY reality. It doesn’t go away. It isn’t always as intense but it doesn’t go away.

I shared the letter with one of his ex-employees. At first I told this person that my ex had cheated on me. That, he understood. Then I told him I had been sexually abused. He didn’t believe me. He said, “even if it were true (which I’m not saying it is) you played your part.” Personal responsibility and all that shit. That I’m not a victim. Is he saying I wanted it?? That I wanted to get raped and pimped out to hundreds of men?! I was vulnerable, yes. I was codependent and he was narcissistic and it played hand in hand. I lost myself to him and he was everything I lived for. I had no sense of self and no sense of reality or normalcy. My “normal” was what others would call a “living nightmare”.

How am I supposed to go back to work after this? I can’t even concentrate! All I am thinking about is this stupid letter and whether or not I should send it to this lady who will be his new wife, and knowingly not acknowledging that I really should not send the letter because I could get sued and I don’t want to lose all of my money to this, something that could be and will be preventable. The “not contacting him”. Or his wife. And I don’t want to have a restraining order on file.

In the end, it’s not my responsibility. It’s not my job to prevent another person’s life being potentially ruined. If it wasn’t her, it would be somebody else. I can’t stop him from living his life and hurting other people. Everything will come back to him in the end, right? Won’t it? He thinks he’s all that. He has rich, powerful, influential friends and business contacts. So what? It can’t hurt me, as long as I stay out of it.

I’ve wondered for a long time and have gone back and forth on whether I should publish my abuse and survivor story under my real name or under a pen name. If I do it under my real name, that story will forever be associated with my name, and will be on the internet, for anyone to see. If, however, I publish under a chosen identity that is not mine, then my story will be out there to help others potentially, without it harming me. But I want justice! I want people to know the truth! Is that so egotistical? Or is it normal to feel that way? We can have feelings, which doesn’t mean we have to act on those feelings.

I’m all confused. I don’t know what to do. I feel jumbled up inside my mind. I want to see my therapist tonight but I don’t get to see him until tomorrow. I want my mind to rest, to be at peace. I want to be okay with myself and my body and my life and my mind. I want to have health, and happiness, and children, and an intimate, adult, mature, sexual relationship with another person. I want to live again and I want to stop spending weekends in bed because I am only hurting myself. I still dread the weekends because I have nothing to look forward to and despite having slept all weekend I do not feel “rejuvenated” after the weekend. I just go to work in that same mental space of drudgery.

So, in the end, do I really own my story? Can I fess up to the people who are closest to me that my story is my reality and that I live in that reality every day? The knowledge of what happened to me haunts me and makes me a better and stronger person all at the same time. I wouldn’t be who I am without my past, yet I wish my past had not been as it was. I would much rather have a more simple life than the one I was dealt. I would much rather know myself and be fully okay with myself. I’m working on it. Slowly. Every day. Step by step. Moment by moment. I can do this.